When thinking about the worst year of music ever, it's probably not fair to include any years before the Beatles. Music was different back then. Even if one of those years looks weaker on paper, it's still more of a creation era, and the soul of musicians back then was amazing to a point in incomparable to the early 80s. This makes 1981 the worst year for music ever, well, at least up to this point. Sure some year from the mid 90s may top it, or 2001, or hell we may only have to wait until 1983 to see if it will be topped (1982 has Thriller so it's already automatically better than 1981). I wish I could have unearthed some grandiose tracks from this year, but we're stuck with Journey and Foreigner, and that's all there is to it.
50. Visions of China – Japan (Synthpop)81
49. Too Fast For Love – Motley Crue (Butt Rock)81
48. Down Under – Men at Work (Pop Rock) 81
47. Hang Fire – Rolling Stones (Rock)81
46. Pretty in Pink – Psychedelic Furs (Gothic Rock)81
45. Bringing on the Heartache – Def Leppard (Butt Rock)81
44. Our Lips Are Sealed – The Go Gos (Pop Rock)81
43. That’s the Joint – Funky Four Plus One (Rap)81
It’s interesting that most of these early rap tunes go on too long like funk songs. Even though it may not be good to listen to them nowadays, a DJ spinning them must love the extra time to mix and what not.
42. Girls on Film – Duran Duran (New Wave)81
41. Just Can’t Get Enough – Depeche Mode (Synthpop)81
I don’t want to blame Depeche Mode for the 80s being so crappy, but this synthpop shit is already getting old and I’ve only heard about 10 “Synthpop” songs since I started this thing.
40. Juke Box Hero – Foreigner (Butt Rock)81
Lou Gramm vs. Steve Perry in some reality competition … how come this hasn’t happened yet?
39. Working For the Weekend – Loverboy (Butt Rock)81
It’s hard to sit here with a straight face and say this is a good song, but if there’s a list of best songs to hear driving home during Friday rush hour, this may place.
38. Kings of the New Frontier – Adam and the Ants (New Wave)81
So here’s the story of the Burundi drum sound which I just learned on Wikipedia because I felt this song sounded way too much like that C30, C60, C90 song I wrote about for 1980. Malcolm McLaren made the sound for this band, but left and did it for Bow Wow Wow slightly before this song was released. It’s kind of the first example of two songs coming out at the same time that sound alike which would lead to things like that “I’ve Got the Power” song and even more so “Hoot! There It Is!”
37. Just the Two of Us – Bill Withers (Rhythm & Blues)81
I can’t fault the cheesiness of this song compared to the rest of its ’81 brethren, and it’s nice to have a little R&B back. It seems like I haven’t heard it in awhile.
36. I Can’t Go For That – Hall and Oates (Pop)81
35. Limelight – Rush (Progressive Rock)81
34. Radio Free Europe – REM (Rock)81
33. Heaven – Rolling Stones (Slow Rock)81
32. One Foot Out the Door – Van Halen (Hard Rock)81
Eddie tries something different hear and it’s shockingly refreshing.
31. Ceremony – New Order (Gothic Rock)81
Joy Division becomes New Order and the world is forever changed, or no one cares. Either way …
30. Seven Year Ache – Rosanne Cash (Country)81
29. Shake It Up – The Cars (New Wave)81
Without the Cars, you apparently don’t have the Strokes.
28. Tempted – Squeeze (Rock)81
27. Waiting on a Friend – The Rolling Stones (Rock)81
The saxophone solo is a big deal all of a sudden. No wonder why Huey Lewis became popular. I've heard more cheesy sax in songs from 1981 than old jazz tunes. The thought of some record executive saying "This song needs more sax" reminds me of Christopher Walken demanding cowbell. Hopefully this executive was fired in 1982.
26. Piece of Your Action – Motley Crue (Butt Rock)81
25. That’s When I Reach For My Revolver – Mission of Burma (Punk)81
24. Release the Bats – The Birthday Party (Punk)81
I don’t know how much I love this song, but here’s props to the first time hearing Nick Cave.
23. Who Can It Be Now? – Men at Work (Pop Rock)81
Maybe I should celebrate the new wave popfest that is the early 80s rather than looking for true quality songs.
22. Spirits in the Material World – The Police (New Wave)81
21. Old Friends – Willie Nelson (Country)81
Even this nearly pure country song has a freaking saxophone in it.
20. Tainted Love – Soft Cell (Synthpop)81
19. Don’t You Want Me – Human League (Synthpop)81
18. Nightwatchman – Tom Petty (Rock)81
At least TP is staying pure in 1981, which I know will fail as soon as I hear the beginning of “You Got Lucky” in 1982.
17. Favorite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl) – Nick Heyward (Pop Rock)81
This is a pretty groovy number that seems like it should be all synthed out and it’s not.
16. Too Drunk to Fuck – Dead Kennedys (Punk)81
15. Digital – Joy Division (Punk)81
This was a live recording I heard and they sound much better and less pretentious live.
14. Start Me Up – Rolling Stones (Rock)81
If I ever saw the Stones live, and didn’t hear this song, I wouldn’t be disappointed and that’s the biggest reason I don’t consider this a classic. I’m not sure what it’s doing that “Brown Sugar” didn’t already do. I'm guessing Stones fans were happy that it brought back some good memories.
13. Mean Street – Van Halen (Hard Rock)81
12. Queen of Hearts – Juice Newton (Country)81
11. Tom Sawyer – Rush (Progressive Rock)81
There are not many bands who work has hard as Rush when writing a song. Unfortunately, sometimes this leads to erraticly spastic changes rather than having a genuine emotion that one can relate to. Basically, you listen to Rush because you want to hear musicians create bizarre-change rock, not because you can relate to their lyrics. It kind of reminds me of another other band I know and will undoubtedly score big in the early 90s.
10. The Waiting – Tom Petty (Rock)81
I’ve never considered this one of Tom Petty’s greater songs, but I’m starting to, or I’m just confused with all this early 80s synthesizer shit.
9. Kids in America – Kim Wilde (Synthpop)81
8. To Hell With Poverty – Gang of Four (New Wave)81
7. Unchained – Van Halen (Hard Rock)81
Dave doesn’t hit on ladies in the middle of this one, but he does cheer on some guy to get laid by the ladies which is almost as good.
6. Waiting For A Girl Like You – Foreigner (Smooth Rock)81
Driving around cars and running from the law while listening to this song is what got me back into playing video games for the first time since Sega Hockey sophomore year of college. Of course I’m talking about Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Aside from that, it’s a fantastic Saturday soothing hangover song. It’s probably a bad idea to use this one if you’re trying to woo a woman in the sack though.
5. Live Wire – Motley Crue (Butt Rock)81
It’s hard to find a label for hard rock that lands on the cheesier side because after all, if it’s on this list, the less cheesy it is. I’ve gone through some Ozzy, Van Halen, and hell, I was even tempted with Aerosmith, but Motley Crue’s Too Fast For Love album may be the first legitimate butt rock album. This is a great tune, and I’m not even kidding, but that’s the 1981 in me talking.
4. Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey (Pop Rock)81
Doesn’t Monster or The Sopranos make this song cool permanently? It’s really tough to tell. Here seems like a good place to rank it.
3. The KKK Took My Baby Away – The Ramones (Punk)81
This is beautiful song written about a bandmate stealing your loved one. Writing about it and playing through it shows how focused these guys were.
2. Under Pressure – Queen (Glam Rock)81
I know there’s no longer such thing as Glam Rock but two of its titans team up for this song and it’s a wonderful look back. I’m not sure how many great songs one can find from 1981, but this is definitely one of them.
1. Ghost Town – The Specials (Reggae)81
To me, the only difference between ska and reggae is the speed and this is moving leisurely. This is a great tune.